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Published 08 December 2010
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The Project Gutenberg eBook, Sevenoaks, by J. G. Holland
This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it , give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online
Title: Sevenoaks
Author: J. G. Holland
Release Date: March 1, 2005 [eBook #15214]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
E-text prepared by Audrey Longhurst, Josephine Paolucci, and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team
New York G rosset & Dunlap Publishers
Published by Arrangement w ith Charles Scribner's So ns
Which tells about Sevenoaks, and how Miss Butterworth passed one of her evenings
Mr. Belcher carries his point at the town-meeting, and the poor are knocked down to Thomas Buffum
In which Jim Fenton is introduced to the reader and introduces himself to Miss Butterworth
In which Jim Fenton applies for lodgings at Tom Buffum's boarding-house, and finds his old friend
In which Jim enlarges his accommodations and adopts a violent method of securing boarders
In which Sevenoaks experiences a great commotion, a nd comes to the conclusion that Benedict has met with foul play
In which Jim and Mike Conlin pass through a great trial and come out victorious
In which Mr. Belcher visits New York, and becomes t he Proprietor of "Palgrave's Folly."
Mrs. Talbot gives her little dinner party, and Mr. Belcher makes an exceedingly pleasant acquaintance
Which tells how a lawyer spent his vacation in camp , and took home a specimen of game that he had never before found in the woods
Which records Mr. Belcher's connection with a great speculation and brings to a close his residence in Sevenoaks
In which Jim enlarges his plans for a house, and co mpletes his plans for a house-keeper
Which introduces several residents of Sevenoaks to the Metropolis and a new character to the reader
Which tells of a great public meeting in Sevenoaks, the burning in effigy of Mr. Belcher, and that gentleman's interview with a reporter
Which tells about Mrs. Dillingham's Christmas and the New Year's Reception at the Palgrave Mansion
Which gives an account of a voluntary and an involuntary visit of Sam Yates to Number Nine
In which Jim constructs two happy-Davids, raises his hotel, and dismisses Sam Yates
In which Mrs. Dillingham makes some important discoveries, but fails to reveal them to the reader
In which Mr. Belcher becomes President of the Crooked Valley Railroad, with large "Terminal facilities," and makes an adventure into a long-meditated crime
In which "the little woman" announces her engagemen t to Jim Fenton and receives the congratulations of her friends
In which Jim gets the furniture into his house, and Mike Conlin gets another installment of advice into Jim
In which Jim gets married, the new hotel receives i ts mistress, and Benedict confers a power of attorney
In which Mr. Belcher expresses his determination to become a "founder," but drops his noun in fear of a little verb of the same name
Wherein the General leaps the bounds of law, finds himself in a new world, and becomes the victim of his friends without knowing it
In which the General goes through a great many trials, and meets at last the one he has so long anticipated
In which the case of "Benedictvs.finds itself in court, an interesting Belcher" question of identity is settled, and a mysterious disappearance takes place
In which Phipps is not to be found, and the General is called upon to do his own lying
In which a heavenly witness appears who cannot be c ross-examined, and
before which the defense utterly breaks down
Wherein Mr. Belcher, having exhibited his dirty record, shows a clean pair of heels
Which gives the history of an anniversary, presents a tableau, and drops the curtain
Everybody has seen Sevenoaks, or a hundred towns so much like it, in most particulars, that a description of any one of them would present it to the imagination—a town strung upon a stream, like beads upon a thread, or charms upon a chain. Sevenoaks was richer in chain than ch arms, for its abundant water-power was only partially used. It plunged, and roared, and played, and sparkled, because it had not half enough to do. It leaped down three or four cataracts in passing through the village; and, as it started from living springs far northward among the woods and mountains, it never failed in its supplies.
Few of the people of Sevenoaks—thoughtless workers, mainly—either knew or cared whence it came, or whither it went. They knew it as "The Branch;" but Sevenoaks was so far from the trunk, down to which it sent its sap, and from which it received no direct return, that no significance was attached to its name. But it roared all day, and roared all night, summer and winter alike, and the sound became a part of the atmosphere. Resonance was one of the qualities of the oxygen which the people breathed, so that if, at any midnight moment, the roar had been suddenly hushed, they would have waked with a start and a sense of suffocation, and leaped from their beds.
Among the charms that dangled from this liquid chai n—depending from the vest of a landscape which ended in a ruffle of wood s toward the north, overtopped by the head of a mountain—was a huge fac tory that had been added to from time to time, as necessity demanded, until it had become an imposing and not uncomely pile. Below this were two or three dilapidated saw-mills, a grist-mill in daily use, and a fulling-mil l—a remnant of the old times when homespun went its pilgrimage to town—to be ful led, colored, and dressed—from all the sparsely settled country around.
On a little plateau by the side of The Branch was a row of stores and dram-shops and butchers' establishments. Each had a sort of square, false front, pierced by two staring windows and a door, that rem inded one of a lion couchant—very large in the face and very thin in the flank. Then there were crowded in, near the mill, little rows of one-story houses, occupied entirely by operatives, and owned by the owner of the mill. All the inhabitants, not directly connected with the mill, were as far away from it as they could go. Their houses were set back upon either acclivity which rose from the gorge that the stream had worn, dotting the hill-sides in every direction. There was a clumsy town-hall, there were three or four churches, there was a high school and a low tavern. It was, on the whole, a village of importan ce, but the great mill was somehow its soul and center. A fair farming and grazing country stretched back from it eastward and westward, and Sevenoaks was its only home market.
It is not proposed, in this history, to tell where Sevenoaks was, and is to-day. It may have been, or may be, in Maine, or New Hampshire, or Vermont, or New York. It was in the northern part of one of these S tates, and not far from the border of a wilderness, almost as deep and silent as any that can be found beyond the western limit of settlement and civilization. The red man had left it forever, but the bear, the deer and the moose remained. The streams and lakes were full of trout; otter and sable still attracted the trapper, and here and there a lumberman lingered alone in his cabin, enamored of the solitude and the wild pursuits to which a hardly gentler industry had introduced him. Such lumber as could be drifted down the streams had long been cut and driven out, and the woods were left to the hunter and his prey, and to the incursions of sportsmen and seekers for health, to whom the rude residents became guides, cooks, and servants of all work, for the sake of occasional so ciety, and that ever-serviceable consideration—money.
There were two establishments in Sevenoaks which stood so far away from the stream that they could hardly be described as attached to it. Northward, on the top of the bleakest hill in the region, stood the S evenoaks poor-house. In dimensions and population, it was utterly out of proportion to the size of the town, for the people of Sevenoaks seemed to degenerate into paupers with wonderful facility. There was one man in the town who was known to be getting rich, while all the rest grew poor. Even the keepers of the dram-shops, though they seemed to do a thriving business, did not thrive. A great deal of work was done, but people were paid very little for it. If a man tried to leave the town for the purpose of improving his condition, there was always some mortgage on his property, or some impossibility of selling what he had for money, or his absolute dependence on each day's labor for each day's bread, that stood in the way. One by one—sick, disabled, discouraged, dead-beaten—they drifted into the poor-house, which, as the years went on, grew into a shabby, double pile of buildings, between which ran a county road.
This establishment was a county as well as a town i nstitution, and, theoretically, one group of its buildings was devoted to the reception of county paupers, while the other was assigned to the poor of Sevenoaks. Practically, the keeper of both mingled his boarders indiscriminately, to suit his personal convenience.
The hill, as it climbed somewhat abruptlyfrom the western bank of the stream
—it did this in the grand leisure of the old geologic centuries—apparently got out of breath and sat down when its task was half done. Where it sat, it left a beautiful plateau of five or six acres, and from this it rose, and went on climbing, until it reached the summit of its effort, and descended the other side. On the brow of this plateau stood seven huge oaks which the chopper's axe, for some reason or another, had spared; and the locality, in all the early years of settlement, was known by the name of "The Seven Oak s." They formed a notable landmark, and, at last, the old designation having been worn by usage, the town was incorporated with the name of Sevenoaks, in a single word.
On this plateau, the owner of the mill, Mr. Robert Belcher—himself an exceptional product of the village—had built his re sidence—a large, white, pretentious dwelling, surrounded and embellished by all the appointments of wealth. The house was a huge cube, ornamented at its corners and cornices with all possible flowers of a rude architecture, reminding one of an elephant, that, in a fit of incontinent playfulness, had indulged in antics characteristic of its clumsy bulk and brawn. Outside were ample stables, a green-house, a Chinese pagoda that was called "the summer-house," an exqui site garden and trees, among which latter were carefully cherished the seven ancient oaks that had given the town its name.
Robert Belcher was not a gentleman. He supposed himself to be one, but he was mistaken. Gentlemen of wealth usually built a fine house; so Mr. Belcher built one. Gentlemen kept horses, a groom and a coachman; Mr. Belcher did the same. Gentlemen of wealth built green-houses for themselves and kept a gardener; Mr. Belcher could do no less. He had no gentlemanly tastes, to be sure, but he could buy or hire these for money; so he bought and hired them; and when Robert Belcher walked through his stables and jested with his men, or sauntered into his green-house and about his grounds, he rubbed his heavy hands together, and fancied that the costly things by which he had surrounded himself were the insignia of a gentleman.
From his windows he could look down upon the village, all of which he either owned or controlled. He owned the great mill; he owned the water-privilege; he owned many of the dwellings, and held mortgages on many others; he owned the churches, for all purposes practical to himself; he owned the ministers—if not, then this was another mistake that he had made. So long as it was true that they could not live without him, he was content with his title. He patronized the church, and the church was too weak to decline his ostentatious courtesy. He humiliated every man who came into his presence, seeking a subscription for a religious or charitable purpose, but his subscription was always sought, and as regularly obtained. Humbly to seek his assistance for any high purpose was a concession to his power, and to grant the assistance sought was to establish an obligation. He was willing to pay for personal influence and personal glory, and he often paid right royally.
Of course, Mr. Belcher's residence had a library; all gentlemen have libraries. Mr. Belcher's did not contain many books, but it contained a great deal of room for them. Here he spent his evenings, kept his papers in a huge safe built into the wall, smoked, looked down on the twinkling vill age and his huge mill, counted his gains and constructed his schemes. Of Mrs. Belcher and the little Belchers, he saw but little. He fed and dressed them well, as he did his horses.
All gentlemen feed and dress their dependents well. He was proud of his family as he saw them riding in their carriage. They looked gay and comfortable, and were, as he thought, objects of envy among the humbler folk of the town, all of which reflected pleasantly upon himself.
On a late April evening, of a late spring in 18—, he was sitting in his library, buried in a huge easy chair, thinking, smoking, scheming. The shutters were closed, the lamps were lighted, and a hickory fire was blazing upon the hearth. Around the rich man were spread the luxuries which his wealth had bought —the velvet carpet, the elegant chairs, the heavy l ibrary table, covered with costly appointments, pictures in broad gold frames, and one article of furniture that he had not been accustomed to see in a gentleman's library—an article that sprang out of his own personal wants. This was an elegant pier-glass, into whose depths he was accustomed to gaze in self-admiration. He was flashily dressed in a heavy coat, buff waistcoat, and drab trousers. A gold chain of fabulous weight hung around his neck and held his Jurgensen repeater.
He rose and walked his room, and rubbed his hands, as was his habit; then paused before his mirror, admired his robust figure and large face, brushed his hair back from his big brow, and walked on again. Finally, he paused before his glass, and indulged in another habit peculiar to himself.
"Robert Belcher," said he, addressing the image in the mirror, "you are a brick! Yes, sir, you are a brick! You, Robert Belcher, sir, are an almighty smart man. You've outwitted the whole of 'em. Look at me, sir! Dare you tell me, sir, that I am not master of the situation? Ah! you hesitate; it is well! They all come to me, every man of 'em It is 'Mr. Belcher, will you be so good?' and 'Mr. Belcher, I hope you are very well,' and 'Mr. Belcher, I want you to do better by me.' Ha! ha! ha! ha! My name is Norval. It isn't? Say that again and I'll throttle you! Yes, sir, I'll shake your rascally head off your shoulders! D own, down in the dust, and beg my pardon! It is well; go! Get you gone, sir, and remember not to beard the lion in his den!"
Exactly what this performance meant, it would be difficult to say. Mr. Belcher, in his visits to the city, had frequented theaters and admired the villains of the plays he had seen represented. He had noticed figures upon the boards that reminded him of his own. His addresses to his mirro r afforded him an opportunity to exercise his gifts of speech and action, and, at the same time, to give form to his self-gratulations. They amused him; they ministered to his preposterous vanity. He had no companions in the town, and the habit gave him a sense of society, and helped to pass away his evenings. At the close of his effort he sat down and lighted another cigar. Growing drowsy, he laid it down on a little stand at his side, and settled back in his chair for a nap. He had hardly shut his eyes when there came a rap upon his door.
"Come in!"
"Please, sir," said a scared-looking maid, opening the door just wide enough to make room for her face.
"Well?" in a voice so sharp and harsh that the girl cringed.
"Please, sir, Miss Butterworth is at the door, and would like to see you."
Now, Miss Butterworth was the one person in all Sev enoaks who was not afraid of Robert Belcher. She had been at the public school with him when they were children; she had known every circumstance of his history; she was not dependent on him in any way, and she carried in her head an honest and fearless tongue. She was an itinerant tailoress, and having worked, first and last, in nearly every family in the town, she knew the circumstances of them all, and knew too well the connection of Robert Belcher with their troubles and reverses. In Mr. Belcher's present condition of sel f-complacency and somnolency, she was not a welcome visitor. Belligerent as he had been toward his own image in the mirror, he shrank from meeting Keziah Butterworth, for he knew instinctively that she had come with some burden of complaint.
"Come in," said Mr. Belcher to his servant, "and shut the door behind you."
The girl came in, shut the door, and waited, leaning against it.
"Go," said her master in a low tone, "and tell Mrs. Belcher that I am busy, and that she must choke her off. I can't see her to-night. I can't see her."
The girl retired, and soon afterward Mrs. Belcher came, and reported that she could do nothing with Miss Butterworth—that Miss Butterworth was determined to see him before she left the house.
"Bring her in; I'll make short work with her."
As soon as Mrs. Belcher retired, her husband hurried to the mirror, brushed his hair back fiercely, and then sat down to a pile of papers that he always kept conveniently upon his library table.
"Come in," said Mr. Belcher, in his blandest tone, when Miss Butterworth was conducted to his room.
"Ah! Keziah?" said Mr. Belcher, looking up with a smile, as if an unexpected old friend had come to him.
"My name is Butterworth, and it's got a handle to it,' said that bumptious lady, quickly.
"Well, but, Keziah, you know we used to—"
"My name is Butterworth, I tell you, and it's got a handle to it."
"Well, Miss Butterworth—happy to see you—hope you are well—take a chair."
"Humph," exclaimed Miss Butterworth, dropping down upon the edge of a large chair, whose back felt no pressure from her own during the interview. The expression of Mr. Belcher's happiness in seeing her, and his kind suggestion concerning her health, had overspread Miss Butterworth's countenance with a derisive smile, and though she was evidently moved to tell him that he lied, she had reasons for restraining her tongue.
They formed a curious study, as they sat there toge ther, during the first embarrassing moments. The man had spent his life in schemes for absorbing the products of the labor of others. He was cunning, brutal, vain, showy, and essentially vulgar, from his head to his feet, in every fiber of body and soul. The woman had earned with her own busy hands every doll ar of money she had
ever possessed. She would not have wronged a dog fo r her own personal advantage. Her black eyes, lean and spirited face, her prematurely whitening locks, as they were exposed by the backward fall of her old-fashioned, quilted hood, presented a physiognomy at once piquant and prepossessing.
Robert Belcher knew that the woman before him was fearless and incorruptible. He knew that she despised him—that bullying and brow-beating would have no influence with her, that his ready badinage would not avail, and that coaxing and soft words would be equally useless. In her presence, he was shorn of all his weapons; and he never felt so defenseless and ill at ease in his life.
As Miss Butterworth did not seem inclined to begin conversation, Mr. Belcher hem'd and haw'd with affected nonchalance, and said:
"Ah!—to—what am I indebted for this visit. Miss—ah—Butterworth?"
"I'm thinking!" she replied sharply, looking into the fire, and pressing her lips together.
There was nothing to be said to this, so Mr. Belcher looked doggedly at her, and waited.
"I'm thinking of a man, and-he-was-a-man-every-inch-of-him, if there ever was one, and a gentleman too, if-I-know-what-a-gentleman-is, who came to this town ten years ago, from-nobody-knows-where; with a wife that was an angel, if-there-is-any-such-thing-as-an-angel."
Here Miss Butterworth paused. She had laid her foundation, and proceeded at her leisure.
"He knew more than any man in Sevenoaks, but he didn't know how to take care of himself," she went on. "He was the most ingenious creature God ever made, I do think, and his name was Paul Benedict."
Mr. Belcher grew pale and fidgeted in his chair.
"And his name was Paul Benedict. He invented something, and then he took it to Robert Belcher, and he put it into his mill, and-paid-him-just-as-little-for-it-as-he-could. And then he invented something more, and-that-went-into-the-mill; and then something more, and the patent was used by Mr. Belcher for a song, and the man grew poorer and poorer, while-Mr.-Belcher-grew-richer-and-richer-all-the-time. And then he invented a gun, and then his little wife died, and what with the expenses of doctors and funerals and such things, and the money it took to get his patent, which-I-begged-him-for-conscience'-sake-to-keep-out-of-Robert-Belcher's-hands, he almost starved with his little boy, and had to go to Robert Belcher for money."
"And get it," said Mr. Belcher.
"How much, now? A hundred little dollars for what w as worth a hundred thousand, unless-everybody-lies. The whole went in a day, and then he went crazy."
"Well, you know I sent him to the asylum," responded Mr. Belcher.
"I know you did—yes, I know you did; and you tried to get him well enough to
sign a paper, which the doctor never would let him sign, and which wouldn't have been worth a straw if he had signed it. The-idea-of-getting-a-crazy-man-to-sign-a-paper!"
"Well, but I wanted some security for the money I h ad advanced," said Mr. Belcher.
"No; you wanted legal possession of a property which would have made him rich; that's what it was, and you didn't get it, and you never will get it. He can't be cured, and he's been sent back, and is up at Tom Buffum's now, and I've seen him to-day."
Miss Butterworth expected that this intelligence would stun Mr. Belcher, but it did not.
The gratification of the man with the news was unmi stakable. Paul Benedict had no relatives or friends that he knew of. All his dealings with him had been without witnesses. The only person living besides R obert Belcher, who knew exactly what had passed between his victim and hims elf, was hopelessly insane. The difference, to him, between obtaining possession of a valuable invention of a sane or an insane man, was the diffe rence between paying money and paying none. In what way, and with what profit, Mr. Belcher was availing himself of Paul Benedict's last invention, no one in Sevenoaks knew; but all the town knew that he was getting rich, apparently much faster than he ever was before, and that, in a distant town, there was a manufactory of what was known as "The Belcher Rifle."
Mr. Belcher concluded that he was still "master of the situation." Benedict's testimony could not be taken in a court of justice. The town itself was in his hands, so that it would institute no suit on Benedict's behalf, now that he had come upon it for support; for the Tom Buffum to whom Miss Butterworth had alluded was the keeper of the poor-house, and was one of his own creatures.
Miss Butterworth had sufficient sagacity to comprehend the reasons for Mr. Belcher's change of look and manner, and saw that h er evening's mission would prove fruitless; but her true woman's heart w ould not permit her to relinquish her project.
"Is poor Benedict comfortable?" he inquired, in his old, off-hand way.
"Comfortable—yes, in the way that pigs are."
"Pigs are very comfortable, I believe, as a general thing," said Mr. Belcher.
"Bob Belcher," said Miss Butterworth, the tears springing to her eyes in spite of herself, and forgetting all the proprieties she had determined to observe, "you are a brute. You know you are a brute. He is in a little cell, no larger than—than —a pig-pen. There isn't a bit of furniture in it. He sleeps on the straw, and in the straw, and under the straw, and his victuals are poked at him as if he were a beast. He is a poor, patient, emaciated wretch, and he sits on the floor all day, and weaves the most beautiful things out of the straw he sits on, and Tom Buffum's girls have got them in the house for ornaments. And he talks about his rifle, and explains it, and explains it, and explains it, when anybody will listen to him, and his clothes are all in rags, and that little boy of his that they have in the house, and treat no better than if he were a dog, knows he is there, and goes